Do you remember? December 1, 1997, Heath High School Shooting, Paducah, Kentucky.
This was one of the first school shootings in history, and it brought worldwide attention to Paducah, Kentucky.
According to Missy Jenkins Smith, in her new book, Lessons from a School Shooting Survivor: How to Find the Good in Others and Live a Life of Love and Peace, Heath High School “was just the second school shooting in a string of dozens of them the past two decades. Quite sadly, because there have been so many, they have blended together, causing the tragedy at Heath to fade from memory.”
Today was about making sure no one forgets.
Christina Hadley Ellegood, Nicole Hadley’s sister, one of the three girls shot and killed at Heath High School by then 14-year-old student Michael Carneal, collaborated with the McCracken County Public Schools board to establish a new memorial and was the organizer behind today’s ceremony to mark 20 years.
The original memorial located inside Heath Middle School (previously Heath High) was difficult to access and needed to be refurbished.
Superintendent Brian Harper, McCracken County Public Schools, explains, “It was about this time last year that Christina Ellegood shared with the school board her wishes for having a memorial that would honor the three girls, and to provide a place for their families, friends, and others involved in the shooting to visit whenever they wanted.”
Today’s ceremony in Paducah brought tears and somber moods, but it also brought positive messages and joy. And more healing. Afterward, attendees walked across the street from the Health Middle School for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the new memorial in honor of the Heath High School victims.
Through fundraising efforts led by Ellegood, and with others’ help, the goal became to have a 20-year ceremony and to create a new memorial to honor the three students killed—Nicole Hadley, Jessica James, and Kayce Steger—and the five who were shot but survived—Kelly Hard Alsip, Hollan Holm, Craig Keene, Shelley Schaberg and Missy Jenkins Smith.
“We felt like we could meet that deadline,” says Harper. “An invitation was sent to families of victims, others involved in the shooting, first responders, and staff who worked at Heath High School at the time of the shooting.”
Several who were at Heath High or helped on Monday, December 1, 1997, attended the ceremony, including Missy Jenkins Smith, who was shot and paralyzed. Since February 2005, she has worked as a counselor at the Calloway County Day Treatment Center in Murray, operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice, which is like an alternative school for kids.
Using what she learned following the shooting and over the years, Smith says, “I felt kids needed a non-biased adult who’s going to listen to their stories or give them advice so they can handle some of the things that they go through.”
She says when she speaks to groups, “I talk about bullying and trying to empower kids to refuse to be a bystander, to refuse to be a bully. If they are a victim, (they need) to make sure they let someone know what they are going through, and to also report violence whenever they see something. They are not being a tattle-tail, they are saving lives. I want people to know the importance of being proactive and that it can happen anywhere.”